What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“A Boy 12 or 14 Years old, that can be well Recommended, is wanted as an Apprentice in this Town. Enquire of the Printer.”
Employment advertisements regularly appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers. Men and women regularly sought to buy and sell their services and labor or the services, assistance, and labor of others. In that regard, employment advertisements could be considered variations on advertisements for enslaved people or indentured servants, which also marketed labor. They are also variations on advertisements that promote the skills and services offered by artisans. All of these kinds of advertisements often rely on similar language and appeals.
This advertisement seeking an apprentice, though brief, includes one of the standard phrases in notices arranging for an exchange of services: “well Recommended.” A person’s reputation in and of itself was an increasingly valuable commodity in the eighteenth century, an attribute that facilitated all kinds of social interactions in addition to commercial exchanges.
I also chose this advertisement because it raises an interesting question. What kind of trade would the prospective apprentice learn? “Enquire of the Printer” suggests that he might have learned that trade. However, it was not uncommon for advertisers to remain anonymous and simply instruct that anybody interested in responding to their notices should “Enquire of the Printer.”
Given its ambiguity, who would have responded to this advertisement? Some job seekers in the twenty-first century are sometimes willing to try their hand at anything that will give them a chance to gain some experience and make a living. Perhaps a young man — or his family — adopted a similar approach in New London in the eighteenth century upon seeing an advertisement like this one.
Once again, I find myself intrigued by the partial stories told in the advertisements, wondering about the lives of those who placed and responded to such notices.